You Will Adapt Your User Interfaces to Service Us!

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Everywhere you look, more and more people feel they are entitled to something they’re not. I and others have written about the obscene level of entitlement some users feel is owed them when they download apps from the App Store, and to be sure this is still a huge problem today. Lately however, I’ve been observing another form of app entitlement and honestly, it has got to stop – iPhone 6 Plus users who think all interfaces should be designed to both fit their jumbo phones AND still allow one-handed use.

When Apple introduced the iPhone 6 Plus and it’s enormous 5.5″ screen, it clearly filled a much-needed gap in the iOS universe. Users had been clamoring for more screen real estate for years and when it finally arrived, they rejoiced. Over time however, these users have developed a sense of entitlement that the apps they run should place all controls at or near the bottom of the screen where they can be reached by the thumb. Sorry, but like Captain Picard in First Contact, I’m drawing a line in the proverbial sand. No, iPhone 6 Plus users don’t get to dictate interface design for the rest of us.

Like it or not, buttons at the top of the screen are not going away any time soon. Developers need every bit of screen real estate to logically lay out controls consistently across a host of device ranges and configurations. From the tiny iPhone 4 to the popular iPhone 6 and the iPad there’s a method to our madness. It might seem like a great idea if every single button, tab, actionable element and control were within thumb’s reach, but that simply isn’t possible, nor is it actually desirable.

When Apple developed iOS, the experts charged with designing its interface laid out regions of the iOS screen for specific interactions. Since the entire navigation stack generally flows from left (where you were) to right (where you are going), the button for closing or going back a level is at the upper left. Creation of new content or taking action on that content, like adding a calendar event or sending an email or a tweet, is usually found at the upper right. Tab controls can be either at the top or the bottom, though generally they are usually found at the bottom. In this way, a user who picks up an iPhone 4 has a reasonable expectation that similar types of controls will appear in similar places when she picks up an iPhone 6 Plus. This helps maintain usability and UI consistency for all apps, not just those that run on jumbo phones.

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There are ways that developers can help facilitate one-handed use when it’s appropriate. The swipe to go back gesture is a great innovation Apple introduced back in iOS 7 and is a thumb-saver on larger phones. Many apps no longer require you to reach up and tap “Back” to go back, you can simply swipe from the left edge of the screen to navigate back one level. Apple also implemented Reachability (double tap the Home button to lower the entire screen temporarily) to help reach interface elements at or near the top of the screen. But for some users, these gestures are simply not enough. The thing they forget is that by opting for a large device they gained a huge, highly readable screen but they also sacrificed some level of UI convenience. iPad users have been dealing with this trade-off for years, that’s the nature of the beast, like it or not.

When I first heard about the rumored existence of the iPhone 6 Plus and its huge screen, I wondered how Apple would reconcile its long-held tenet that one-handed use reigned supreme with that of it’s upcoming larger device. Apple even built an entire marketing campaign around the advantages of smaller iPhones vs their larger Android counterparts. But when the Plus was released, Apple quickly abandoned that philosophy in order to sell millions of 6 and 6 Plus’. Funny how that happened.

The problem with these users is that they often think like the Borg – they want the best of both worlds – larger screens and an interface that lets them use every app one-handed. As someone who designs for the screen, I’m here to tell them that until humans evolve longer thumbs that simply isn’t possible. At some point (iOS 10?) Apple may come up with a completely new interface paradigm for iOS, but in the meantime it’s best if they start dealing with reality. Whether it’s assimilating Starfleet personnel or playing with your apps, sometimes you just need to use two hands.

Mr. Spock and I

So many wonderful things have already been written about Leonard Nimoy on his passing this week. I’ve been awash in stories about his life, his contributions to our popular culture and his humanity, but I keep coming back to what he’s meant to me these many years.

I could write a book about Leonard’s portrayal of Mr. Spock but I’ve decided to record my thoughts in audio form instead. Just a couple minutes to try and summarize why I loved him so much, on saying goodbye and an amazing, chance encounter I had with Nimoy as a teenager, growing up in New England. This life-long fan will miss him dearly.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘Shore Leave’

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Some of my favorite episodes of classic Star Trek feature plots that venture from science fiction into the realm of the surreal. The series wasn’t afraid to take chances with stories that seemed strange and fantastical, even for Star Trek’s standards. Episodes like The Savage Curtain, Catspaw and Shore Leave all feature elements that, at least initially, can’t possibly make any sense adding an air of other-worldliness that was Star Trek’s hallmark.

When the crew of the Enterprise survey a lush planet in the Omicron Delta region, the place quickly presents itself one of those “strange, new worlds” Kirk highlights in the show’s opening narration. McCoy spies Alice and the Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Sulu finds an ancient Colt revolver and Captain Kirk meets Finnegan, an upperclassman who tormented him endlessly at Starfleet Academy and a long lost love named Ruth. Both people from Kirk’s past can’t possibly be on this planet far from Earth, yet here they are in all their nostalgic glory.

Things get even more bizarre for the landing party when Don Juan shows up and Doctor McCoy is seemingly killed by a dark knight on horseback. The crew eventually discovers the entire planet was constructed so that its creators could come and visit and live out any fantasy they choose simply by thinking about it. One of the planet’s caretakers appears at the conclusion of act IV (accompanied by an alive and well McCoy) and suggests that with the proper precautions, their playground planet could just be what the exhausted Enterprise crew needs to relax.

I love many aspects of Shore Leave, especially how this episode set the stage for the creation of the holo-deck in Star Trek: The Next Generation – a place where you could go and magically experience anything you wished in an instant. The playground planet featured prominently in another episode of Star Trek: The Animated SeriesOnce Upon A Planet, and as you might expect, the crew encounters difficulties then as well.

Our one perfect shot from Shore Leave comes just as Kirk discovers his old adversary, Finnegan, leaning boyishly against a tree. The fantastic nature of his appearance, how director Robert Sparr decided to present him to the audience is wonderful. I always wished we had learned more about Finnegan, perhaps in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, but alas, that never materialized.

Next time Spock gets his first taste of command under extreme circumstances in “Galileo Seven”.

Check out the entire series of perfect Star Trek shots to date.

TV I’m Enjoying Right Now

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MINOR SPOILER WARNING: I don’t talk about specific plot points for these TV shows in this post, but I do outline them in general. As with all of my posts about TV & movies, if you’d rather not be spoiled about ANYTHING, you probably shouldn’t read on.

It’s not a stretch to say the US television landscape is currently experiencing a golden age. Everywhere you look there are quality TV shows to be enjoyed. As television and those who create it have branched out beyond the major networks to cable, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, competition for viewers has increased dramatically. If the current state of television is any indication, the best way to attract those millions of viewers is with high-quality series that can be consumed any time and anywhere.

There’s so much good TV in fact, that it’s pretty much impossible to watch it all so I thought I might share just four of the great shows I’ve been enjoying lately, why I love them and where you can catch them.

Arrow

I had heard so much about the CW’s show Arrow, based on the superhero from DC Comics, that I finally just had to check it out. The series follows spoiled billionaire playboy Oliver Queen who, at the start of the show, is missing and presumed dead when his yacht is lost at sea. He returns to his home in Starling City five years later a changed man, determined to clean up Starling as a green-hooded vigilante armed with a bow.

Arrow follows in the footsteps of prior super hero efforts like The WB’s Smallville and although it takes about 10-12 episodes to really find its footing, once it does, it really gets going. By the end of season 1, Arrow is a solid mix of action, gritty drama, geeky comic book fun and more. Stephen Amell plays the lead, Oliver Queen, and thankfully his acting chops have improved considerably since the start of the series. Ollie goes from a spoiled brat who has little emotional range to a complex character we care deeply about.

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Arrow also has a great ensemble cast including stand outs David Ramsey as John Diggle and Emily Bett Rickards as Ollie’s geeky, computer expert Felicity Smoak. The writers really start to ratchet up the story arc and drama near the end of S2 which culminates in some seriously great TV. Arrow also sets up the backstory for crossovers with another CW property I’ve started watching – The Flash. The two shows take place in the same universe so I’m looking forward to seeing how these two heroes interact in Flash S1 and Arrow S3.

Arrow is a great deal of fun and seems to be building its own personal mythos. As someone who’s knowledge of the DC character Green Arrow came solely from cartoon episodes of the Super Friends, it’s been wonderful learning about Oliver’s origins, his personal mission and his relationships with his friends in Starling City. Arrow also features other costumed heroes and villains I’ve often heard about but never seen on screen until now. The first two seasons of Arrow are both on Netflix streaming, the third season is currently airing on the CW but is also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.

M*A*S*H

For many of you reading this, M*A*S*H is most likely before your time. The show followed a company of army doctors and nurses as they work only a few miles from the Korean War front to save wounded soldiers. Based largely on stories and accounts from actual MASH doctors, the series premiered on CBS on September 17, 1972, and ended 11 seasons later in February of 1983. It was one of the highest-rated television shows ever and its final episode “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is still the most-watched episode of television in history with a record-breaking 106 million viewers.

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As soon as I heard Netflix streaming picked up the first 5 seasons of M*A*S*H, I instantly added it to my queue. I remember growing up on the show and loved watching the antics of surgeon Hawkeye, played by Alan Alda, BJ, Radar, Potter and the rest of the cast week after week.

If you’re new to M*A*S*H, the first 3 seasons are pretty slapstick and based more on the comedic formula of the 1970 feature film than what would follow. Several of the main characters decided to leave after season 3 including McClean Stevenson as Col. Henry Blake and Wayne Rogers as Trapper John. When they left, the writers (and the actors) who replaced them made a conscious decision to set the new characters apart from the old and the show started taking on more dramatic depth.

Re-watching a classic series like M*A*S*H on Netflix is great because you eventually come upon episodes you’ve never seen before in syndication. Finding them is like unearthing gold, dramatic and comedic nuggets to savor and treasure. I already count watching at least 4 episodes of M*A*S*H I’ve never seen which is remarkable since I was sure I had already seen them all.

A situation comedy like M*A*S*H pre-dates the long-story filled arcs that are common among today’s popular shows, but it more than makes up for it in heart and touching character interactions. I always enjoyed seeing how these brave group of men and women clown, scrounge and save lives in the midst of war. There are great episodes in M*A*S*H that will make you howl with laughter as well as cry like a baby. The key is giving the audience the kinds of characters we care about and can relate to. When the show ended, none of us (myself included) wanted to see them go. Re-watching the series now, it’s very clear why.

House of Cards

For some TV goers, House of Cards may be an acquired taste. The award-winning series from Netflix returns for season 3 on February 27th and fans of the show have been anticipating it’s arrival like an overdue subway train. I got hooked on House of Cards after only a few episodes, largely due to the fantastic performances of the two leads, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Clarie Underwood.

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The show features the dark side of Washington politics and the lengths some will go to to seize and hold power. It’s a tight, well-written dramatic series that features some impressive twists and turns and enough political intrigue to keep fans consistently on the edge of their seat week after week.

Unlike Arrow or M*A*S*H, the entire House of Cards run is available for streaming, but only from Netflix. Indeed, House of Cards (and other Netflix series like Orange is the New Black) helped bring the term “binge-watching” into today’s lexicon. Thanks to how the internet is changing the way we watch TV, viewers can now experience the entire 10 ep season of House of Cards in a single sitting. Personally, I like to savor my television, so I usually skip a few days in-between episodes, but your milage may vary.

If you enjoy tense, political maneuvering, well-crafted, realistic characters or just plain good storytelling, House of Cards may be for you. Those who love the show, love it dearly and with good reason. Spacey, Wright and the entire cast is top-notch, the writing is clever and production values (especially the music) are as good or better than any show on network or cable TV. The cliffhangers from S2 have paved the way for what’s yet to come and I can’t wait until Frank finally gets back to breaking the 4th wall once again.

Archer

Yes, Archer is a cartoon, and yes, that sometimes means it can be childish and silly but for my money it’s also one of the funniest shows on television. Archer is the brainchild of its creator, Adam Reed, developed for the FX network and follows the exploits of Sterling Archer, master spy and anti-hero. The series premiered in 2009 and features adult humor and dark, sometimes vulgar comedy but that’s really part of what makes Archer so great.

Archer and his co-workers at the organization formerly known as Isis, are a rag-tag bunch of misfits who tout themselves as being skilled in covert surveillance. In reality, the team often causes more harm than they prevent, going from one international incident to the next, toppling governments, trying to overthrow drug lords and even protecting the Pope from assassination attempts.

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Archer is at his best when he’s facing off against any number of arch-villian spies the series has introduced over it’s 5-season run on FX. I especially love Sterling’s bionic rival, Barry Dylan, who has made Archer’s life a living hell on more than one occasion. Barry showed up again this season, as did a number of other recurring characters which has helped to make season 5 more memorable than the previous “Archer Vice” season 4.

The series features the amazing voice talents of H. Jon Benjamin as Archer, Aisha Tyler as Lana and former SNL cast member Chris Parnell who puts in a hilarious performance as accountant Cyril Figgis. The cast makes an annual appearance at Comicon and often does live episode readings, dishes on their fellow cast members and answer fan questions. I also love the visual style of Archer including the “sets” and the design of the characters themselves, many of whom are patterned on their real-life counterparts.

If you like off-beat comedy combined with a touch of adult humor and fantasy thrown in for good measure, you’ll want to check out Archer on FX. One of the best parts of an animated series is that the characters and show format generally don’t change. When it comes to Sterling and company, that’s just fine with me, they’re hilarious just the way they are.

Honorable Mentions

Other shows I’m currently enjoying or looking forward to returning include Marvel’s Agent Carter & Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Flash, Big Giant Swords on the Discovery Channel (yes, and it’s awesome!), Face Off, Better Call Saul and WWII in HD on Netflix.

Everywhere you turn there’s just too much good TV to absorb it all. I hope this quick rundown helps give a glimpse into the kinds of TV I love to watch. Maybe there’s something here that appeals to you as well, enjoy!

The TARDIS Takes a New Trip

I love it when fans make awesome contributions to the shows they admire. I also love that technology has reached a point where anyone, with enough skill and the right hardware, can create special effects sequences that rival the series’ actual production quality. Enter this unique, fan-created dematerialization sequence for the BBC’s Doctor Who. I’ve watched it half a dozen times already and I love it to death.

Back before series 8 aired, another fan posted his take on the iconic opening credits for the show that featured elements like spinning gears and clock faces. He did such a wonderful job of it, the producers adapted his creation into the official title sequence for Doctor Who starring Peter Capalidi. It’s wonderful when show runners treat the love of their fans as an asset to be nurtured instead of a threat to their intellectual property. So who knows, perhaps we’ll see a sequence like the one here in a future episode as the Doctor and his companion make their way across time and space.

I’ll Miss You, Jon Stewart

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Like so many good things in life, we often take stuff for granted until we lose it. When someone’s been on TV as long as Jon Stewart has, you tend to think of him as always being there. So when the news broke on Twitter today that Stewart will be hanging up his fake news hat later this year as the host of The Daily Show, it almost didn’t seem real. I’m too young to really remember Johnny Carson’s 30+ year run on The Tonight Show, but I imagine our parents must have felt something like this when Carson finally decided to retire.

Sixteen years is a long time to host any show however and I can understand if Jon wants to take a break from the endless pressure of making fun of the 24-hour news cycle. Add to the fact the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign season is fast approaching and one can start to understand the timing behind Stewart’s decision. That said, it’s been a tough year for fans of late night comedy. Between Stephen Colbert leaving his series and heading to The Late Show on CBS and now Jon Stewart leaving the fray, where will I get my award-winning fake news from? If Jon Oliver didn’t already have enough to live up, now he’s got even bigger shoes to fill.

For my money, Stewart was at his best when he was wasn’t laughing. I relished those TV appearances like his watershed 2006 appearance on CNN’s Crossfire, where he raised the level of discourse about the state of politics in the media. He’s always cast a critical eye towards media and political figures who talk much but whom say very little. His epic stints with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly come to mind as the two would take jabs at each other from their respective, televised desks. His first ‘Daily Show’ broadcast after the attacks of 9/11 was one that I’ll never forget, and put into words what so many of us were feeling in the days after the tragedy.

For all his jokes and satire, Jon often contributed more to our understanding of the day-to-day issues facing us as a nation than many of his “real world” counterparts did. For that, and his genuine desire to try and stop the cable TV shouting matches we’ve all had to endlessly endure, I will dearly miss him. Here’s hoping his voice continues to be heard, if not on Comedy Central, then in some other fashion. We could all do a lot worse than Jon Stewart.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Balance of Terror’

The crew of the Enterprise gets their historic first look at the enigmatic Romulans as Kirk is called to defend a string of Federation outposts along the Neutral Zone. A mysterious ship that seems to posses the power of invisibility has been staging sneak attacks and it’s up to Starfleet’s finest to track it down and destroy her before the Romulans start an all-out war.

The Balance of Terror is notable for a number of reasons, but my favorite is that it introduces us to actor Mark Leonard as the Romulan Commander. Star Trek fans will of course know that Leonard went on to play Spock’s father, Sarek in ‘The Journey to Babel’ as well as in a number of other episodes of Next Generation and the movies. Our one perfect shot comes during the stealthy deep space battle between the Romulan Bird of Prey and the Enterprise. The battle itself was patterned after popular on-screen WWII U-Boat conflicts made famous in such films as 1958′s Run Silent, Run Deep.

I just love the look on the Romulan Commander’s face as he realizes he’s finally met his match in Captain James T. Kirk. The two Captains circle and spar like caged tigers, employing every maneuver and trick in the book to try and best each other and the result is one of fans’ top-rated Original Series episodes. The Romulans would return time and time again in episodes like ‘The Enterprise Incident’, but for my money, their first appearance was also their best.

Next time the crew of the Enterprise takes a holiday and gets much more than they bargained for in ‘Shore Leave‘.

Check out the entire series of perfect Star Trek shots to date.

Why ‘Gotham’ Is Awesome

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MINOR SPOILER WARNING: This post talks about general character direction, minor plot points, settings, etc. for Fox’s Gotham. If you know Batman lore, then you’re probably safe to read on, otherwise head back to the Batcave.

I consider myself a superhero fan, but not a super-fan. That is to say my love of the genre comes more from movies and TV than it does from knowing every little detail about a particular character’s origin, backstory and development. I haven’t read Batman comics since I was a kid and I don’t play the Batman video games. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why I’m enjoying Fox’s new show – Gotham so much. The show takes place in its name-sake city, just after the brutal murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and plays out like a gritty crime drama in the biggest, grittiest metropolis of them all, Gotham City.

Like Smallville that tracked the formative years of Clark Kent on his road to becoming Superman, Gotham gives us a sneak peek inside the young mind of Master Bruce Wayne, his guardian Alfred, Detective Jim Gordon and host of future super-villains that will one day make life a living hell for the denizens of Gotham. The comparison to Smallville ends there however. As is true so often, Batman’s story is far more interesting than Superman’s ever hoped to be. I’m a HUGE Superman fan but for some reason I could never could get into Smallville. On the other hand, Gotham has me firmly in its grasp. There are a bunch of reasons for this and I just wanted to outline a few of them here for people who are thinking about watching but who are rightly skeptical. The show just had its mid-season finale which, if you’ve not watched so far, is a great time to dive in and catch up.

Young Bruce Wayne & Alfred

Without Bruce Wayne, there’s no Batman and even though Gotham certainly plays out like a crime drama, full of colorful criminals, crooked cops and political corruption, at its heart the story is about how Bruce eventually becomes the Dark Knight. Perhaps more than any other entry thus far, Gotham gives us a unique insight into the mind of the recently-orphaned Wayne and what makes him tick. From the comics (and countless portrayals in movies & TV) we know Bruce’s parents are killed in front of him in cold blood, but from there we typically jump years ahead, learn how he discovers the Batcave, travels the world training in martial arts and eventually returns to Gotham to don the familiar cape and cowl… and that’s it.

With a weekly TV series like Gotham, writers have a unique opportunity to explore Bruce’s character like never before and show us why he changes from that frightened kid in the alley to the powerful, dark vigilante he’s destined to be. Bruce becomes obsessed with finding the person who not only killed his parents, but also learning about the crime network that made it possible in the first place. He quickly realizes he has the resources to keep tabs on just about everyone, laying the foundation for becoming a master detective in the process. He also begins to test himself, holding his breath in the family pool for as long as possible, balancing precariously on railings and more so he can become stronger both mentally and physically.

Perhaps most importantly, his legal guardian, the loyal Alfred, is there every step of the way to protect him and try and help him make sense of the tragedy that surrounds him. In subtle ways, Alfred unknowingly guides Bruce to become his future Bat-self. When Bruce is bullied at school, Alfred not only teaches him how to physically defend himself, but also makes it directly possible for Bruce to confront his attacker. All of these scenes give depth and meaning to the familiar struggles Alfred endures as Bruce fights for his life as an adult. In the universe of Gotham, Alfred has become the ultimate enabler and in my opinion, it’s the single best reason to watch the show.

The Rogue’s Gallery

Another awesome aspect of Gotham is the entire ensemble cast of characters and getting to explore the intricate web of relationships they have with each other, and ultimately Batman. The show’s primary focus on the fresh, young Detective, Jim Gordon is appropriate and Ben McKenzie does a fine turn as does Donal Logue as Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock. Gordon is the one good cop in a bad city which makes the monumental task of cleaning up Gotham seem even more impossible. There are crime bosses like the delightfully villainous Fish Mooney played by Jada Pinkett Smith, and of course Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot played wonderfully by Robin Lord Taylor who steals more scenes than a pickpocket steals wallets.

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There’s a corrupt mayor, police commissioner, hired mercenaries and an odd assortment of crazies that Gotham just seems to breed like some twisted, evil puppy mill. It’s easy to see why the city needs a protector but until Bruce comes of age, Gordon must fill the role for the time being. Sometimes Gotham hits us over the head one too many times with the name of a character just to make sure we “get” who they are, but it’s a concession I’m willing to grant them at this early stage in the game.

Overall, the interplay of the large cast of characters is interesting and contains enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, which I like. I’m also looking forward to Morena Baccarin joining the cast as Dr. Leslie Thompkins after the mid-season break. Dr. Thompkins is an important figure in Gotham lore and should provide some much-needed matriarchal balance in Bruce’s tumultuous life. If there’s one criticism of the cast of characters, it’s that the producers rely a bit too much on the comics. I like meeting characters I’m not familiar with that have been created specifically for the TV show like Fish Mooney. Not every bad (or good) guy has to come from the comics.

Production Design

From the cavernous Gotham PD interior, to the on-location shooting in and around New York City, to the thoughtful costume design and especially the amazing CGI long-shots of the city’s waterfront, the visual design behind the Gotham is inspired. Perhaps more than any other TV show I’ve watched in recent memory, Gotham seems like an actual place. The city feels epic in scope and situated just perfectly between retro and modern styling (there are no smartphones, flat-panel monitors, etc) for today’s television audiences.

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Each week, Gotham looks and feels more like a film than a TV show. It also manages to strike a great balance between shots designed specifically for television but inspired by the comics. The city itself feels huge and sprawling and a character in its own right, which was one of the things I loved most about Twin Peaks, and that’s a good thing. I especially love the long, sideways tracking shots that give us glimpses down between the city’s towering buildings. The CGI and lighting in these shots is masterful and totally realistic. Gotham’s top-notch production design sets it far above other superhero TV entries like Lois & Clark, Smallville, and Arrow and makes the stories that much more convincing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s universe feels as fully realized as Gotham’s.

Conclusion

There are lots of great reasons to watch Gotham, but perhaps the best one is that the show manages to make perfect sense of the fantastical world of Batman. Watching the stories unfold and seeing how the characters evolve from week to week brings info focus the incredible mythos that is the Dark Knight. Bob Kane created a wonderful character in Batman 75 years ago, but in all that time we’ve really only learned a little about what motivates Bruce Wayne to do what he does as well as those who surround him. Fox’s Gotham shines a bright light in that dark corner of the comic book world and the results are fun, unexpected and visually stunning. I only hope the show lasts long enough to watch Bruce grow up into the hero he’s destined to be.

I’ve Got An ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Theory


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you’ve not watched up through S2, ep 6, back away from the blog post! I’m about to talk about stuff you probably don’t wanna know. You’ve been warned!

This season of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has really been firing on all cylinders. After a slow and rocky start, the show started to really come into it’s own after the universe shaking events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier debuted in theaters. Since the fateful emergence of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s nemesis, Hydra and the subsequent dissolution of the agency, the drama has really been amped up for Coulson and his now, tiny, rag-tag team.

One of the best story lines we were introduced to at the start of S2 was Agent Jemma Simmons’ infiltration of Hydra in order to gain critical intelligence on their base of operations. Simmons (played brilliantly by Elizabeth Henstridge) worked as a scientist in one of Hydra’s top labs, flying under the radar of the big bads who, as we learned, have a penchant for brainwashing talented and gifted people to turn them into weapons against S.H.I.E.L.D. Jemma managed to feed intelligence reports to Coulson until she was discovered and rooted out in ep 5 – A Hen in the Wolf House. Thankfully she escaped unharmed and un-brainwashed – or DID she?

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Here’s my theory – Before she escaped with the help of Mockinbird “Bobbi” Morse, I think Jemma was indeed seized and put through Hydra’s brainwashing program and turned into an eventual mole against Colson, May, Skye and even the now-damanged Fitz. There are a bunch of breadcrumb clues that will make this seem obvious later on. Firstly, Ward tells Skye in the brig that Hydra’s brainwashing is only done in special cases, they have to have a certain type of personality for it to take. Jemma has always tried to be a good agent, following orders and making her superiors proud of her, in other worse she’s perfectly suited to obey programmed commands.

Second, when Morse returns Simmons to the team, Simmons thanks Coulson personally for getting her out before she was made to “Happily comply with all their commands”. Unless I missed something, there’s no way Simmons would know about Hydra’s brainwashing program, let alone the key trigger phrase “You will comply”, unless she had actually been through it herself. Trust me, she’s been turned into a sleeper agent behind our backs, and it’s going to be awesome.

The writers of S.H.I.E.L.D. have demonstrated their willingness to pull the rug out from under us as they did with the fantastic realization that Ward was a secret agent of Hydra in season 1. I think they have something similar planned with Simmons in S2. I’m not saying she’ll re-join the ranks of Hydra permanently, but I do think her story line and that of her close friend, Fitz will intersect in a most dramatic way. At some point, Fitz is going to return to his fully-functioning self and wouldn’t it be the biggest kicker if just as that happened, he and the rest of the team was betrayed by the re-programmed Jemma? Fitz would go literally off the deep end, plunging even further than he did in that box at the end of season 1. The kind of dramatic climax that represents would be off the charts and one that would make for some seriously awesome TV. Or perhaps Fitz will realize Jemma has been brainwashed and his need to protect and cure her will finally coax his brain back into working order.

Any way you cut it, this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is shaping up in fantastic fashion, with tons of action, hidden secrets and wonderful character development. I’ve enjoyed the addition of the new agents, Kyle MacLachian’s turn as Skye’s creepy father and Ward staying a bad guy and not being turned back to the side of right. I can’t wait to see what happens next, but in the meantime, I’ll be keeping one eye squarely focused on Simmons in the weeks ahead and so should you.

You Just Lost A Customer

News today that some businesses have begun disabling the NFC readers in their retail locations so as block customers from using Apple Pay. When I read this, I have to say it filled me with rage. I don’t yet own an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, but I will soon and one of the reasons why I’ve been looking forward to owning one is the secure, easy transactions that Apple Pay represents. Now we learn that a group of merchants wants to introduce their own payment processing system, one that favors the merchants by eliminating credit card fees, but is most likely far less secure, and most certainly more difficult or confusing to use.

If you’re an iPhone owner who’s as upset as I am, I’ve designed this helpful flyer that you can print a stack of and hand to the clerk at CVS, Rite Aid or anywhere else that refuses to accept Apple Pay. Simply put, you’re telling them that you’re going to take your business elsewhere until they come to their senses and accept your money via Apple Pay. Why any business owner would actually refuse a customer’s money in this economy is bewildering to say the least, but we need to let the corporate owners know we have choices and we chose not to give them our money.

Download the PDF version. If you want, sign your name at the bottom and then see they get into the hands of businesses in your area that insist on doing what’s better for them, instead of what’s best for the consumer.

You can also contact CVS and Rite Aid electronically and tell them that they need to support Apple Pay or risk alienating millions of iPhone users. The more our voices are heard, the harder it will be for them to ignore us.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Ollie!

While preparing for the onslaught of technical support that accompanies new releases of our most popular app – Twitterrific, I was curious about just how many updates we’ve actually released over the years. I looked back through the app’s version history as well as a fun timeline of Iconfactory software releases I created a few years ago to find this week’s 5.8 update is the app’s 50th since its launch in the summer of 2008.

If you had told me back then that we would still be coding and improving the little blue bird that could almost seven years later, I probably would never have believed you. Back then Twitterrific 1.0 was a fun, but unproven app for the then newly released iPhone from Apple. It was released along with the launch of the brand new App Store where users could browse hundreds (yes hundreds) of apps for their shiny new phones. At that time there was no official Twitter mobile client, I’m not even sure there were ANY other Twitter apps in the store at launch*.

Fast forward to 2014 and 50 updates later and we arrive at v5.8 for iOS 8. Given the rocky history 3rd party developers and Twitter have gone through the last few years, I’m honestly surprised we’re still here today. Over the years Twitter has focused more and more on controlling their own user experience and branding. This meant imposing design and interaction guidelines on 3rd party devs like the Iconfactory as well as capping the number of total users who can actually own Twitterrific. Thankfully, since Twitterrific was there at the very beginning, our token pool (at least on iOS) is quite large and we can afford to continue developing the app as long as it makes money. The same can’t be said for so many other smaller 3rd party Twitter developers who have either given up or sold their apps to other larger developers. One of the reasons why the Mac version of Twitterrific still hasn’t been updated is due to the limited number of user tokens available to us on the Mac platform, a policy I sincerely hope Twitter re-examines one day.

When I think of all the hard work, hand-wringing and ultimately, satisfied customers, Twitterrific has gone through over the years it really boggles my mind. Knowing that so many people use and love something you’ve created day after day is a wonderful feeling. You keep downloading and sending us positive feedback, and that motivates us to refine and improve the app. Twitterrific would never have flown as far and wide as it has if it wasn’t for all of our loyal customers, and for that we are truly thankful. If you’ve not tried Twitterrific in a while, I invite you to check it out. Everything old is new once again!

* There was at least one other 3rd party Twitter app in the store at launch – Twinkle.

Space:1999 + LEGO = WIN!

Builder Joe Klang recently posted images from his LEGO construction book Build Your Own Galaxy in which he features a few builds based on the cult 70′s science fiction TV series Space: 1999 and if you’re a fan of the show like I am, the results will have you beaming. Joe built incredibly detailed models of Eagle One, a large portion of Moonbase Alpha Main Missions and even minifig versions of the command crew itself including Dr. Russell, Commander Koenig and Maya. What I wouldn’t give to have his LEGO Eagle One sitting on my desk, ready for lift off. I’ve been obsessed with Space: 1999 ever since I was a boy and seeing Joe’s creations, crafted out of LEGO’s brought me right back to my youth. Bravo, Joe!

Hat tip to The Brothers Brick for this post.

The Eyes of Alfred Hitchcock

This clever and somewhat disturbing collection of moments from the films of Alfred Hitchcock is mesmerizing, strange and totally amazing. It also reminds me just how many of his films I’ve yet to see. I’m going to make an effort to correct that oversight as I’m reminded yet again just how much of a master film maker he truly was.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Conscience of the King’

The Enterprise is called to Planet Q by Dr. Thomas Leighton, a research scientist and friend of Captain Kirk. Leighton’s suspects Anton Karidian, the leader of a Shakespearean acting troupe currently on the planet, is, in fact, Kodos “the Executioner”. Kodos was the former governor of the earth colony Tarsus IV, and was responsible for the massacre of over 4000 people—including members of both Kirk’s and Leighton’s families—20 years before. Kirk decides to take the traveling troupe of actors onboard and try and discover if Karidian is truly Kodos.

Our one perfect shot comes as Karidian performs Shakespeare’s Hamlet on board the Enterprise, as he peers out from behind the metaphorical mask he’s been wearing for the past twenty years. ‘Conscience of the King‘ is a wonderful dramatic episode of Star Trek, one cited by writer and BSG creator, Ron Moore as one of his all-time favorites. There’s a great deal of allegory in the writing and its connection to Shakespeare which makes it all the more compelling as a murder mystery.

Our next episode cleverly brings the deep-sea submarine hunts of WWII to outer space in The Balance of Terror.

Get Your Groot Loops!

Designed by Bamboota and Elliot Fernandez, these amazing Marvel heroes t-shirts not only look great but are filled with your daily allowance of vitamins and minerals! Well, not really but they do make fantastic t-shirts and would make super-fun real-life cereal products. My personal favorite has to be Groot Loops, but Thorrios swoop in as a close second. Head on over to Sharkrobot to check them out or pick up a few for yourself, they even offer them in big sizes.

Hat tip to iO9 for this post.

A Bright Climate Future Shines in ‘What’s Possible’

Created specifically for, and presented to world leaders at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit in New York, this cool short film portrays climate change as a challenging, but solvable problem. Written by Scott Z. Burns, and produced by Lyn Davis Lear, it features the narration of none other than Morgan Freeman and stirring music by composer Hans Zimmer. Its hopeful tone reminds me of the reboot of Cosmos which recently aired on FOX which also dealt in-part with global warming.

By itself, ‘What’s Possible’ is just a single, small step on our journey to dealing with man-made climate change. Hopefully, the world leaders who experienced it, understood its message and what it means for future generations. Time is growing ever-shorter to deal with climate change which will surely be humanity’s defining challenge for the next 50 years. As Carl Sagan said in his famous essay The Pale Blue Dot:

“The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.”

Will our species stand up as Carl said, or will we continue to be consumed with short-term monitory greed and political posturing? I prefer to think we’ll come to our senses and do, not only what’s possible, but what’s right.

How to Get Sh*t-Faced Watching SyFy’s ‘Faceoff’

I admit to loving the SyFy network’s makeup reality show Faceoff. Budding young artists square off against each other each week to try and create the most elaborate, fantastic and convincing characters they can. In the last few seasons however, Faceoff has slipped into a formulaic approach where we repeatedly experience the same tropes over and over again.

It’s gotten so bad I started thinking it might actually make a great drinking game. I’m not a drinking man by nature, but if I was, a Faceoff Drinking Game would get me shit-faced (see what I did there?) super-quick. Next time you host a party and want to get sloshed with your friends, cue up any episode of Faceoff and drink whenever you spy any of the show’s oh-so-familiar trappings. You might even get drunk enough not to care that SyFy cancelled Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge. :-(

• A contestant is “excited” about this week’s Spotlight Challenge

• Two contestants who don’t work well together, naturally get paired up

• One person on a team strongly disagrees with the design direction of the other but is too timid to say anything until it’s too late

• Contestant’s makeup specialty is the very subject of this week’s challenge – zombies, vampires, steampunk, etc. (this person usually ends up being the one to go home)

• A contestant doesn’t have a “clear idea” for the direction of their makeup

• Contestant listens to sage advice from makeup master, Michael Westmore, but decides to ignore it and proceed with their own poorly designed creation

• Contestant uses a material / process they have little or no experience with

• One of the contestant’s molds “gets stuck” (take a bonus shot if said contestant starts crying on camera)

• Stuck mold miraculously freed in the last few minutes of day 2

• One of the models has an allergic reaction to a material used in their makeup

• Contestant leaves painting until Last Looks

Glenn Hetrick’s outfit is especially goth/vampire/over the top

• One of the judges complains about the poor asymmetry of a makeup

• One of the judges points out a contestant’s makeup has little or nothing to do with this week’s challenge

• The rest of the contestants give out a collective sign of “Oh no!” when they find out which one of their talent-less peers is going home this week

UPDATED: Reader Ross Crabtree sent in some additional suggestions for our little Faceoff drinking game and they were just too good not to post, so here they are. Thanks Ross!

• Anytime Fun Fur is used in a makeup

• A contestant talks about how there are certain they are going home this week

• A contestant gushes about how they are a big fan of a guest judge

• A Contestant’s makeup appliance has a tear that needs to be repaired

• A contestant decided to not use a mold because they are running out of time

Star Trek: Next Gen Wallpapers for iPhone 6

UPDATE: Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus versions have been updated to correct some minor alignment issues, took a shot at a version for Windows Phone as well as added a new more “authentic” Next Gen color scheme to choose from.

If you enjoy Star Trek as much as I do then you’ll love these free, Next Generation mobile wallpapers I designed for use with iOS. I’ve updated my original LCARS Star Trek lock screen for the brand new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus so you can be the geeky envy of all your friends. For those of you still running the smaller iPhone 5, don’t worry, there’s even a version here for you!

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek Production Designer, Michael Okuda since day one and this project was my way of saying “Thank you!” for the wonderful, futuristic operating system that Next Gen fans know and love as LCARS. With the iPhone 6 Plus approaching the size of actual padds from Next Gen, it only made sense to bring this amazing aesthetic to the palm of our hands.

How to download and apply the wallpapers on iOS 8:

1) Click to view the wallpaper that best fits your device:

• iPhone 5 Series – Original / TNG Colors
• iPhone 6 – Original / TNG Colors
• iPhone 6 Plus – Original / TNG Colors

• Windows Phone – Original / TNG Colors
I don’t own a Windows Phone and make no promises about how this version will work for you. These are provided as is!

2) Tap & hold on the image in mobile Safari & save it to your photo library

3) Open Photos, view the image then tap the Share button in the lower left

4) Scroll to the right in the Share menu and tap Use as Wallpaper

5) Pinch Zoom OUT on the image to size it exactly to the screen

6) Turn Perspective Zoom OFF

7) Tap Set > Set Lock Screen

That’s it! Sleep/lock your iPhone and the next time you activate it, you can pretend you’re Captain Picard himself receiving an important message from Starfeet Command. I hope you enjoy this fun treat & help spread the word via Twitter and Facebook. Engage and enjoy!

One Perfect Shot: TOS’s ‘The Menagerie Pt. I & II’

There are a few shots from the original series that fans like myself consider highly iconic. Today’s one perfect shot from the two-part episode The Menagerie is one such image. The shot features a medieval-looking castle on the planet of Rigel VII where Captain Pike (in the foreground) is forced to fight a large, hulking Kalar. This wonderful frame features a matte painting by artist Albert Whitlock that was actually improved for the re-mastered version of the original series.

The Menagerie’s skillful use of scenes and elements from the original, un-aired Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was Gene Roddenberry’s way of taking some of the pressure off the show as the schedule of the original series started to slip from week to week. By creating essentially a “flashback story” with a dramatically shorter script (just 64 pages long, shorter than the scripts for most single-part episodes), Roddenberry was able to give the production and writing teams crucial time to get back on schedule with NBC for episodes currently in production.

The castle would again be re-used in season 3′s Requiem for Methuselah as the lavish home of the immortal recluse Mr. Flint. When the re-mastered version of Requiem aired, the original shot from The Cage was replaced by an all-new, CGI version of Flint’s home on Holberg 917G.

Next up, Captain Kirk discovers the play’s the thing wherein he’ll catch The Conscience of the King.